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What is cirrhosis?

for Veterans and the Public

What is cirrhosis?

When something attacks and damages the liver, liver cells are killed and scar tissue is formed. This scarring process is called fibrosis (pronounced "fi-bro-sis"), and it happens little by little over many years. When the whole liver is scarred, it shrinks and gets hard. This is called cirrhosis, and usually this damage cannot be undone.

A normal liver versus a cirrhotic liver

Any illness affecting the liver over a long period of time may lead to fibrosis and eventually cirrhosis. Heavy drinking and viruses (like hepatitis C or hepatitis B) are common causes of cirrhosis. Cirrhosis also may be caused by a buildup of fat in the liver of people who are overweight or have diabetes. Some people inherit genes for certain conditions, such as iron buildup in the liver, that cause liver disease. In other diseases, bile collects in the liver and causes damage that can lead to cirrhosis.

Other causes include certain prescribed and over-the-counter medicines, environmental poisons, and autoimmune hepatitis, a condition in which a person's own immune system attacks the liver as if it were a foreign body.